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Blues Matters, 'This Is The Life I Choose' Album Review, Issue 95, April/May 2017

11 brilliant original songs and two exceptional bonus tracks, further propels the uniquely talented Schwarz towards the pinnacle of her musical career.

Never has a title been more apt than This Is The Life I Choose for what is Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion’s fourth studio album since 2012. On top of two other live recordings and a relentless touring schedule, this amounts to an unprecedented dedication to playing the blues. However, it is quality not quantity which counts and this latest release, comprising 11 brilliant original songs and two exceptional bonus tracks, further propels the uniquely talented Schwarz towards the pinnacle of her musical career.

When she started out, comparisons were made with Koko Taylor and Nina Simone, but from the opening bars of “Hold On” the voice is now uniquely and distinctively Zoe Schwarz. The powerful introduction settles into an impeccably phrased story of a broken relationship with an impassioned plea to ‘Reach out, embrace the sun/ Hold on when love has gone, be strong.’ The mood is enhanced by fast and furious, innovative guitar and Hammond organ interludes from Rob Koral and Pete Whittaker, respectively. Zoe’s incredible vocal range and versatility are evident on the contrasting, upbeat “My Baby Told Me So” making it hard to believe it is the same singer.

“People,” with its catchy, driving guitar riff, implores greater unity in today’s turbulent world, Koral’s searing solo capturing the ambience perfectly. Not surprisingly, the peerless “Broken” has been released as a single with proceeds donated to the Crisis charity; this is a tear jerker sung with sincerity and great empathy, Rob’s weeping guitar sound a perfect complement. By contrast, “I Wanna Get Something Started With You” is an optimistic blues shuffle which swings along nicely thanks to drummer Paul Robinson and some incredible four bar fills.

The compelling groove on “Free From You” reinforces the dark message of ending a violent relationship. Rob’s lyrics on “This Is The Life I Choose” portrays in depth the sacrifices of life as a blues woman even though the music brings great joy, reflected in the climactic vocals and guitar. With its hypnotic lyrics and staccato beat, “Exit” is quirky with a soulful ending. The joy of playing the blues is evident on “I Can’t Live Like That” which showcases the flair of saxophonist Ian Ellis and the trumpet of Andy Urquart. “Money In My Pocket” proves that punk rock is well within the scope of the band’s repertoire with Whittaker and Robinson confirming the diversity of their skills and techniques across all genres.

A fitting finale is the moving, balladic “Call Of The Night,” a beautiful poem written by Pete Feenstra and interpreted in her usual inimitable way by Schwarz. Just when it seems it cannot possibly get any better, the imaginative and poignant interpretations of Jack Bruce’s “We’re Going Wrong” and Anthony Newley’s “Feeling Good” leave the listener on an emotional high.

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    • Words by: The Bishop